Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

A disquisition on blade sampler packs

I’ve mentioned blade sampler packs so frequently—and it’s such an important idea to convey to the novice DE shaver—that I thought I should do a post just on that topic.

Why sampler packs are needed

The sampler packs arise from the unpredictability of any individual shaver’s response to any brand of blade. Any brand of blades will work extremely well for some (who praise the brand) and don’t work at all for others (who condemn the brand harshly). Blades are the very epitome of YMMV. You cannot rely on either the praise or the condemnation: you have to try blades to see how they work for you. Asking another shaver, “Is <brand of blade> good?” (“for me” implied) is like asking someone, “Does cilantro taste good?” (“to me” implied). To the latter question I can give a solid “Yes” (for myself) and my daughter can give a solid “No! Not at all!”, but neither of us can answer whether it will taste good to you, which, after all, is why you’re asking. The best we can say is, “Try it and see how you like it.” So it is with brands of blades.

Novices have great difficulty with this notion: they cannot help thinking that their experience with a brand of blade is intrinsic to the blade and doesn’t depend on themselves. So they will say things like, “<Brand of blade> sucks! You might as well use a steak knife!” — clearly thinking that anyone else would have the same experience that they did, and not accepting the answer “Whether a brand works really depends on the individual, so you have to try it.” People in general have great difficulty in accepting the idea that their experience is not universal, but (alas) it’s not.

Some really do not like this answer, either receiving or giving it, and cling to the hope that some sort of answer will let a shaver know in advance whether or not he will like the brand—i.e., whether it is worth trying. I was accused (probably rightly) of inconsistency by referring people to the reader reviews of my shaving book as being helpful for a decision, but not referring people to reviews of the brands of shaving blades. Herewith is such a referral. Still, you’ll notice for every brand there are those who love it and those who hate it (just as with cilantro), and you cannot know into which group you yourself will fall until you try the brand.

Just to be clear: one shaver after reading this post asked, “Which brands are “trash” brands that I should avoid?” The point I want to make is that “trash” brands may be great for you. You cannot know in advance. A brand that redefined for me what “a great shave” means is dismissed as a “trash” brand by others, who refer to it as using the edge of a tin-can lid. That is, it did not work for them. But for me it was great. I cannot (apparently) emphasize enough that YOU HAVE TO TRY THE BRANDS to know whether they will work or not. There is no shortcut. There is no list “These brands work for pretty much everyone” and thus will work for you, or “These brands are trash” and will not work for you. Some brands seem to work for many—but often people take the first “popular” brand that works for them and believe that they’ve found their best brand. I encourage shavers to explore the popular brands but also the unpopular brands. The brand that was great for me was NOT a popular brand.

Some brands do have a preponderance one way or the other, but even if only a few hate (or love) a brand, what if you are one of those few? You can’t use the brand statistically: “I love this particular blade 60%, and hate it 35%, and am indifferent 5%.” With the individual shaver and a particular blade, it’s a 100% decision. So the individual shaver has to try multiple brands, rather than simply pick those that are (statistically) popular.

If it were not like this—if shavers responded in the same way to a blade (which many novices believe is the case and simply ask “Which blade is sharpest?” as if that would be the best blade for them)—then there would exist only one brand of blade: THE blade. Perhaps it would be sold in different colors of packages, or with different decorations printed on the blade, but everyone would use it because it is the “best” blade.

But life is not like that, and so the sampler packs exist.

And it’s not just the blade that affects the equation

Let me add that it’s even more complex that suggested above. What “works” (or not) is not simply the blade. It’s the combination of blade, razor, and shaver. If the shave is not satisfactory, it’s the combination that doesn’t work, not any single element.

This was brought home forcibly to me recently when I got a new Weber polished-head razor. I already had the Weber DLC and the Weber ARC and both were (and are) among my favorite razors, so I was eager to try the polished-head model: same head geometry, different finish. I popped in a new Kai blade—a very good brand for me, both sharp and smooth—and proceed to shave. Ugh! I got a terrible shave: very harsh, with razor burn. I was aghast—and disappointed. Could the finish on the razor head make such a difference? I tried the next day: same result.

I was sorely let down, but changed to an Astra Superior Platinum blade and tried once more—and this time got the familiar Weber comfort, smoothness, and overall excellence of shaving. Terrific shave.

So it was not the razor that was the problem. It was the blade. No, wait: it wasn’t the blade—Kai blades work extremely well for me… in other razors. So it was the combination. And then I realized the third element: me. I would bet any money that a Kai blade in a Weber razor will work great for some other shavers. For example, the Feather blade works extremely well for some in various razors (for me, only in the Feather premium stainless razor), but a very skilled and experienced shaver I know cannot use a Feather blade, regardless of the razor: his skin simply cannot take that particular blade.

So you cannot really blame blade, razor, or shaver: the combination may work, or it may not. But to say that the problem is inherent in any one of those is a mistake. The thing is, though, while you can change the brand of blade and/or the particular razor, you cannot change yourself: you are the constant. But do understand that a combination that works well for you may not work at all for someone else.

Sources of sampler packs

So far as I know, these are the only current sources for sampler packs. Links to the vendors’ sampler packs, in alphabetic order:

In general, I suggest getting as many brands to try as possible: the largest sampler pack with the broadest range of brands.

One important point: don’t buy sampler packs that include only one blade of each brand. Though rare, it is possible to get a blade that’s a dud. I’ve had it happen, and if it’s a brand you commonly use, you know it’s a dud and simply replace it. But if it’s from a sampler pack with only one blade from the brand, you have no idea whether the brand is bad for you or whether the blade was a dud. Thus a sampler pack with one blade per brand is essentially useless: if a blade is good, then the brand is probably good, but if the blade is bad, you are left in the dark.

What it means for a brand of blade to “work for you”

When you first begin DE shaving, you may be unsure how to distinguish a blade that “works” for you versus one that “doesn’t work.” If a blade “works,” it cuts the stubble easily and cleanly. If you’re paying close attention to pressure (light) and to the correct angle (as though the blade were sliding on a layer of lather, almost parallel too the skin being shaved), it should not feel harsh or cause irritation. (If the angle is too steep, so you scrape your skin, or if the pressure is too great, you’ll get razor burn regardless of the blade).

A blade that “doesn’t work” usually tugs at the whiskers, rather than cutting easily. It’s akin to the sensation you get if you do no prep or very little prep: the blade pull at the whiskers rather than cutting easily. A blade also doesn’t work if it causes irritation or a lot of little nicks, but the primary indication is that it acts like a dull blade (or inadequate prep), with the tugging.

Experienced shavers all recommend that, as soon as a novice finds a brand that seems to work reasonably well, he should be faithful to that brand while polishing his technique, and not try another brand until he’s consistently getting good, smooth, nick-free shaves — perhaps a month or two.

How often to change a blade

Novices often ask how long a blade will last. The answer depends heavily on the shaver: his prep, his technique, his skin, his beard, his razor, and also, of course, on the brand of blade. In other words, the only answer is that the blade should be changed when the shave is unsatisfactory. The most common sign that a new blade is needed is that the blade starts to tug instead of cutting cleanly and easily—the same feeling you get if your prep is inadequate. Other brands may suddenly start to nick a lot. But if the shave is no longer satisfactory, try changing the blade. Fairly soon you’ll learn how long a particular brand will last for you.

How to explore when the time comes

Once your technique is sound, you can begin the exploration. In particular, it would be unwise to skip from brand to brand to brand, one shave each: you would never then learn the particularities of a brand of blade and whether it actually works for you. It would be like trying to learn tennis while using a different brand of racquet for each set or each serve: you’d never find your groove.

If you try a new brand and get a terrible shave, discard that blade and try another blade of the same brand—it may have just been a bad blade. (Rare, but it does happen.) If there’s only one blade of each brand, do not buy that sampler pack: it’s useless. If the second blade of the brand also gives you a terrible shave, discard it and mark that brand off the list: it’s obviously not for you.

Exceptions: Sometimes a brand that doesn’t work well in one razor will work fine in another. One shaver commented that he couldn’t use Astra Superior Platinums at all in his Wilkinson Classic razor (a standard inexpensive beginner razor), but when he got an Edwin Jagger DE8x razor, Astra Superior Platinums turned out to be a best blade for him. So if you have more than one razor, you might want to try the “bad” brand in another razor.

Also, as your technique improves, you may find that a brand that didn’t work well later turns out to work fine. (This happened for me with Gillette 7 O’Clock SharpEdge blades.) So rather than discarding all the blades of the “bad” brand, put the remaining blades in an envelope and write on it the date, the brand, and the reason you didn’t like them. Then after a year, given them another try. You may be surprised.

Here’s the testing routine: Call the blade that so far works best for you the “best blade.”

  1. Shave for a week with the current “best blade.” This sets the baseline for comparison.
  2. Shave for a week with a new brand of blade (unless it fails the test of two terrible shaves).
  3. If the new brand is the better of the two, it is now your new “best blade”: go to 2 to try another new brand.
  4. If the new brand is not the better, go to 1.

By using this approach you’re always comparing just two brands: your best so far and a new brand. That makes the comparison easy, and by always starting the comparison with a week shaving with the “best,” you not only get a break from testing, you get a fresh reminder of what a blade that’s good for you feels like before you try the next new brand.

One experienced shaver discovered that sometimes two different brands are almost equal in quality, and that for those, using each brand on alternate days allows for a closer comparison.

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Written by LeisureGuy

7 August 2007 at 12:06 pm

Posted in Shaving

29 Responses

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  1. I’m wondering if in trying the different blades in the different sampler packs, one should stay with the same razor, so as to remove the razor as a variable in the process. Same questions applies to the cream or soap used.

    I’m currently working my way through the RazorandBrush #4 pack, and have decided to give each blade a try in a Gillette TV (safety bar razor) and an Gillette New (open-comb razor). I want to see if there’s a difference in how each blade does in each type of razor.

    Thoughts/comments/suggestions appreciated.

    Thanks.

    jim

    jim

    9 September 2007 at 6:41 am

  2. Removing the variables is hard to fault, but you’re more rigorous than I. However, I do note that when I try a new brand, I gravitate toward the Merkur Classic head, using the HD, the 1904, or one of the Edwin Jagger razors. So that variable I do in fact remove. If the blade works there, I will use it in other razors more or less indiscriminately.

    So far as limiting which cream or soap I use, I haven’t done that. I do take the lather into account, and if for some reason I get a bad lather (as in the mishap with the silicone grease), I don’t hold the blade accountable.

    LeisureGuy

    9 September 2007 at 9:27 am

  3. I like the idea of removing variables. When exploring a new product in any of the major shaving disciplines, I will always use a hot wet face towel, my HD, a new Derby Blade, a puck of MB/C&E super and a post dab of Nivea ESB as my gold standard. Meaning if I try a new product, I will substitute the new product say, a treet blue special, for the Derby, then follow the format above to the letter. That way, I can figure out within a few shaves the exact performance increase or decrease, and move on quickly.

    Joaquin

    11 September 2007 at 9:18 pm

  4. Michael—Do you have a telephone number for Razor and Brush. I would like to order a sampler pack, but I am a little (lot) reticient about sending a fax copy of my credit card to them.
    Thank you
    Scott

    scott

    11 October 2007 at 10:25 am

  5. Sure. Check out the ordering process. The number is 561-792-4244, but read the page for the complete story.

    LeisureGuy

    11 October 2007 at 10:31 am

  6. Hey Leisureguy,

    I’ve made it a point to buy pretty much every blade available.
    In order to try the most blades in the least amount of time, I rig up 5 or 6 gillettes with similar heads. knack, lady, SS, slim adj on 5, etc.

    I then do half passes with each blade. I know this isn’t the most scientifically sound method, but it’s fun. I could tell right away I didn’t like Tigers or Zorrik’s, but I absolutely loved Gillette 7 O’Clocks and Treet Platinums.

    I keep a spreadsheet updated every day with razor used, blade in which razor, which cream or soap, which aftershave, etc. It’s really fun, and I have tried so many blades it’s unbelievable.

    I say, go to razorandbrush and buy the huge sampler, then sift through the other blade offerings in case you missed any.

    Gene

    guitarslinger

    27 January 2008 at 1:34 pm

  7. Although trying to limit the variables is scientifically admirable, truth is, the one variable that’s hard to control is the condition of your skin on any given day. The skin mirrors much of what is going on in our lives, from lack of sleep, too much stress, sun-exposure, wind exposure, ambient humidity and temperature, previous shave quality, exercise, etc., etc.

    I guess the moral of the story is that in the shaving arena, scientific rigor is limited in value. I would say that if you shave with a given blade for a week, regardless of razor, cream, etc., you will get a pretty good “feel” for if that blade works for you.

    Steve

    29 January 2008 at 7:54 am

  8. Hi LeisureGuy!
    I’ve been DE-shaving about 1 week… maybe 10 days and now I’m considering the “Connaught Sampler Packs”.
    As you stated, the UK pack should be the best bet, as for the many brands.
    My question is if I should go with the small UK pack or the large one?
    What is your recommendation here?
    Thanks again for a great blog :)

    Jimmy

    5 May 2008 at 3:13 am

  9. Since you don’t know which brand(s) will work for you, so you want to get the sampler pack with the greatest number of brands. That said, in the initial month or two (or three), you should stick with one brand only until your technique is solid and well-established. If you don’t, any problems you have with a new brand could be the brand or it could be a problem with your technique, so you wouldn’t know. Getting the sampler pack now is fine, but a full exploration should wait until you’re ready.

    LeisureGuy

    5 May 2008 at 7:10 am

  10. Thanks!
    Then I will probably wait a couple of months.
    But when I decide to try the sample packs, I will get the one with most brands. In this particular case the UK connaught pack.
    What is your recommendation, to get the packs with 5 blades/brand, or should I get the pack with 10 blades/brand. I will get the largest brand pack, but wonder if I should get 5 or 10/brand. Thanks
    Hopefully I was clear :)

    Jimmy

    18 May 2008 at 10:32 am

  11. The 5-blade packs are the better bet. You can be sure that some of the packs simply won’t work for you, however good they may be for someone else, so you want to pay for as few blades as possible of those. When you find the blades that are best for you, you can get those in greater quantities.

    LeisureGuy

    18 May 2008 at 10:40 am

  12. BullGoose Shaving Supplies http://www.bullgooseshaving.net also offers DE blade sample packs. There is currently a 61 blade sample pack (The BullGoose Gold) and a 35 blade sample pack (The BullGoose Thrifty). There are plans to add additional sample packs in the near future.

    Phil

    12 July 2009 at 1:15 pm

  13. Many thanks for the pointer. I’ve updated the post (and the book, for the next edition).

    LeisureGuy

    12 July 2009 at 3:48 pm

  14. That is great news! When is the new addition scheduled for release? Your book has served as an invaluable reference and my copy has become dog eared.

    Phil

    12 July 2009 at 5:02 pm

  15. Well, it’s not really scheduled yet. When it is released, you can be sure that there’ll be an announcement on the blog.

    LeisureGuy

    12 July 2009 at 7:26 pm

  16. Just had a look through this section today to see if anything’s new and noticed that Bestshave.net no longer appears on your list. Is there any reason for this as I’ve recently received an order from them and their service is good. Still no postal charge for the sampler pack and relatively cheap for bulk blades as well

    Tony The Blade

    10 April 2012 at 12:36 pm

  17. I got a complaint, but I’m thinking I’ll reinstate them. Only one complaint so far.

    LeisureGuy

    10 April 2012 at 12:50 pm

  18. 5 orders fullfilled now and still no problems with service value delivery etc. Just so you know I don’t use them exclusively and have found Connaught shaving here in the uk excellent as well

    Tony The Blade

    23 April 2012 at 6:52 am

  19. First of all I would like to say wonderful blog! I had a quick question in which I’d like to ask if you don’t mind. I was interested to find out how you center yourself and clear your head before writing. I’ve had a hard time clearing my mind in getting my thoughts out. I do take pleasure in writing however it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are usually wasted just trying to figure out how to begin. Any recommendations or tips? Kudos!

    i house

    7 July 2012 at 2:17 pm

  20. The state of mind you describe is characterized by the psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi as “flow”. He describes it (and the experiments that revealed its nature) in the book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. A study was done of programmers—whose programming mindset is quite similar to that of writers—and your timing is spot-on: it takes about 10-15 minutes to enter the productive mental state where your conscious is focused on the mental task.

    The programming study was interesting because at the time it was done, the programmers were in open-office environments with a public-address system to notify programmers of phone calls. They had to stop about every 15 minutes or so to listen to an announcement to see whether it was something for them. The result was that they never reached the productive state of mind: just as they were about to get there, they’d get another interruption. As a result of the findings, I made sure that programmers in a new office building we were doing got private offices: small, but they could close the door and prevent interruptions.

    So, yes: it takes 10-15 minutes to reach the productive state. Once there, it’s vital to avoid interruptions, because it is in that state that one is most productive. I don’t have any tricks for getting there except habit. I just plunge in, writing as best I can, and in about 15 minutes I’m churning stuff out. However, one author that does have some really good advice is Peter Elbow in his book Writing Without Teachers. That has a lot of good tactics.

    LeisureGuy

    7 July 2012 at 2:38 pm

  21. Hello there, I think your blog could be having internet
    browser compatibility problems. Whenever I take a look at
    your web site in Safari, it looks fine however when
    opening in Internet Explorer, it’s got some overlapping issues. I simply wanted to provide you with a quick heads up! Other than that, wonderful site!

    Guenstig-Kaufen.org

    1 October 2012 at 1:31 pm

  22. Thanks for the heads up. I think the compatibility problems are out of my control: the blog is a WordPress.com blog, so the browser compatibility is a WordPress issue.

    LeisureGuy

    1 October 2012 at 11:11 pm

  23. Its such as you learn my thoughts! You seem to know
    a lot about this, such as you wrote the book in it
    or something. I feel that you could do with some p.
    c. to drive the message house a little bit, but other than that, that is fantastic blog.
    An excellent read. I will certainly be back.

    trebinje

    20 October 2012 at 2:17 pm

  24. Great blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download it from somewhere?
    A design like yours with a few simple adjustements
    would really make my blog shine. Please let me know where you got
    your design. Many thanks

    boxbcn

    26 October 2012 at 10:00 am

  25. I tried to reply to your email address, but it’s invalid. Since the comment is not relevant to the post, I would prefer to email. In the future, please provide a valid email. The theme is The Journalist v. 1.9, a free theme from WordPress.com.

    LeisureGuy

    26 October 2012 at 10:49 am

  26. I think everything published was actually very logical.
    However, what about this? what if you were to write a awesome
    headline? I ain’t saying your information is not solid., however suppose you added something to possibly get folk’s attention?
    I mean A disquisition on blade sampler packs
    Later On is kinda vanilla. You ought to peek at Yahoo’s front page and see how they create news titles to get people to open the links. You might add a related video or a related pic or two to grab people interested about what you’ve got to say.
    In my opinion, it might bring your posts a little bit more interesting.

    Great Deals Online

    12 December 2012 at 9:47 am

  27. Thank you for your suggestions. Did you know that, of all the flavors of ice cream, vanilla is by far the most popular? (Fact.) :)

    LeisureGuy

    12 December 2012 at 11:08 am

  28. I am left speechless! Having just decided to go the DE route and received my Xmas presents of a Merkur 23C, badger brush and stand I thought I would trawl the internet for a few tips on DE shaving. I’m not wishing to sound derogatory……. as a hobby I tie trout fishing flies and thought we lot were somewhat anal in our pursuit of the exact bug imitations, right shade of silk etc. – you guys have us beat hands down! I had no idea as to the lengths gone in pursuit of the perfect shave….Great Stuff! Keep it up!

    Peter C

    3 January 2013 at 8:03 am

  29. You’re welcome. Although there are certainly hobbyists among traditional wet-shavers (collectors, DIYers, and the like), in general I would not classify it as a hobby but rather as a pleasure: the sort of necessary social ritual that affords great pleasure, while not being a hobby. For example, a traditional family dinner party, in which all aspects of the event—the notifications about the event, the creation of the menu, the preparation of food, the setting of the table, the welcoming of the family members as they arrive, the gathering at the table, and the pleasure in the meal in conversation—are familiar and also provide great pleasure and enjoyment, would not, I think, be called a hobby. The daily morning shave is similar to that on a smaller scale. Most shavers, after some exploration of alternatives available in brushes, soaps, razors, blades, and aftershaves, and some testing of various techniques, settle down to a repeated ritual that provides great pleasure while not really being a hobby in the normal sense. Rather it becomes a daily task transformed into a source of enjoyment while still be a daily task.

    LeisureGuy

    3 January 2013 at 8:20 am


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